National obsession

So far, I haven’t been able to identify one.  No national sports teams. No sports team colors being worn. No raucous debates and liquor-fueled bar brawls over a game score.  I hear tell about monster mah-jong games but have yet to witness (or participate in) one. If there is a common thread running through Taiwan society, I’d say it’s the constant need to SHOP! There are day markets, flower markets, flea markets (wish I could find these), and night markets. There are malls in every district., stores on every street and alleys, too. And the stores are open late 7 days a week.  Taiwan is a night owl’s shopper’s mecca.

Last night I found myself at the Momo mall (Nanjing and Tunhua)  after getting an IKEA receipt stamped with a tax ID for an expense report. To give you an idea of the mall’s size, even though IKEA  is HUGE, it occupies the bottom two floors of only the eastern quadrant of the mall! After getting a 10NT soft serve ice cream cone, I took the elevator up to the 5th floor (the building has 15) to look around Working House (a larger selection of house wares and decorative items than the one down the street from me) and down to 4F, Piin, to look at furniture and textiles.  While in Piin, I meet  someone else who speaks English – this is really a rarity! It turns out, she’s the wife of a China Air pilot based in Taiwan. We got to talking and she told me there are are lots of LIBRARIES here (!) and offered to send me the information about the main branch. Sounds like I’ve got next week’s adventure lined up…

Day market

I’ve been promising myself to brave the heat and humidity to visit the day market, in the same space occupied by the night market (go figure)! The day market is where you’ll find fresh produce of every shape, color, and size,  plus flowers and “lucky” bamboo – it’s everywhere, fish and seafood, meats (ugh), and rice and grains.  (At night, you’ll only find cooked/prepared foods.) I ended up with fresh grapevines (they smell strange but taste wonderful in a salad or stir-fried), basil, gold kiwi, honeybells (tangelos I think), guava (bah-luh) , both pink and white flesh ( they smell heavenly), and white roses with greenery – all for under 500NT (16.00 US).

Guava and flowers from the Day Market

Hungry Ghost Month

August is the time of year when the “ghosts” (of dead ancestors? any generic passing spirits?) must be appeased – with food! This makes no sense logically (ghosts don’t have a physical body so how can they eat anything?) but then, this is more about tradition than logic.  One day, the street outside the Temple (five floors below my apartment, literally) looked the same as always. By evening, a 8-foot high framework (bamboo poles, corrugated tin roof) had been set up all along the lane, obscuring the lanterns from the street level but protecting anyone under it from the frequent downpours. I noticed that the foot traffic outside the Temple dramatically increased  (as did the noise). For a week people brought flowers, paper “money”, and all sorts of fruits as offerings (to what, I’m not quite sure – maybe the hungry ghosts?) and stacked it up on the giant marble “alter”.  One morning, van after van showed up (blocking the alley) to deliver their cargo: enormous bags of rice were the only item I recognized. Wow, those ghosts must really be famished! Where will they store all those food stuffs? And then, the mystery of all that food was revealed! Lines of people (the faithful Temple goers?) stream into the Temple to collect (pink plastic) bags filled with (I’m guessing here) the rice and whatever else was previously delivered. At some point I will have to attempt communication with the Temple folk and ask them about this time-honored tradition.

Guarding the gates of the Temple

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…